Wallace Stevens (1879 – 1955)

Wallace Stevens’s Memorial at Cedar Hill

Born in Reading, PA, Wallace Stevens enrolled at Harvard in 1897 but left without a degree in 1900. Soon thereafter, he enrolled in New York Law School and graduated with a law degree in 1903.  Stevens went on to work for various law firms and insurance companies before moving to Hartford in 1916 and joining Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company where he stayed for the remainder of his life.

In addition to living as a businessman, Stevens was a poet and was recognized as being one of the most significant American poets of the 20th century.  In 1946, he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and in 1950 received the Bollingen Prize in Poetry.  In 1955, the same year of his death, Stevens was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and the National Book Award.

Considered a bit of an odd character by those around him, Stevens was called a “Grumpy Genius,” and he characterized himself as the “hermit of poetry.”  In 1904, he met his future wife Elsie Viola Kachel.  They married in 1909, but Stevens’ parents considered her to be beneath him and no one from his family attended their wedding.  This resulted in Stevens cutting off ties with his family, and he never again spoke with his parents until after the death of his father.  Stevens and Elsie had one child, a daughter named Holly, who was born in 1924.

On August 2, 1955 at the age of 75, Wallace Stevens died of cancer.  For 39 years, Stevens walked to work from his home at 118 Westerly Terrace to the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company.  Following his death, the Wallace Stevens walk was formed – developed along the same route Stevens used to walk were placed 13 granite blocks each with a stanza from Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”  In addition, the Hartford Insurance Company commemorated their long-time employee and eventual vice-president by naming their theatre after him.

References:

Connecticut Museum Quest.  Wallace Stevens Walk. Accessed at http://www.ctmuseumquest.com/?page_id=4186 in August 2010.

The Poetry Foundation. Wallace Stevens. Accessed at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=6576 in August 2010.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Wallace Stevens: Biography and Recollections by Acquaintances. Accessed at http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/stevens/bio.htm in August 2010.

Wikipedia. Wallace Stevens.  Accessed at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wallace_Stevens in August 2010.

Photo Credit: Wallace Stevens Memorial, Cedar Hill Cemetery